The first time I visited New York it still had parts of it that I had read about in beat novels and saw on the television and in the movies. It was still grimy and dirty and had a certain edge to it. I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t wait to see all of the places I had read about or seen, the locations that for the last 3 or 4 years had been peppering my dreams and fantasies.
I came to NY for a college trip with a dozen or so friends. As soon as we walked onto the city streets from Penn Station (a location I was thrilled to see) a homeless person made a pitch like none I had ever heard before for money. His voice was deep and he was articulate. This was the place I was meant to be—where even the homeless were literate and had a fascinating story, or at least a script they were following that was far more interesting than anything I heard in Pittsburgh. My first stop was the village, then Washington Square, St. Marks, The Bowery, they were all visited the first night. I felt alive. I felt the pulse of the city. I felt the spirit of all those famous artists and musicians whose steps I wanted to emulate. I felt like losing my bus pass and never going back to Pittsburgh!
For the next week while we were there I lived the NY I thought an actual New Yorker would live. I carefully avoided what I thought were the tourist traps and ate in the restaurants of Little Italy and the Village, I shopped in the hip local boutiques and underground record stores, I avoided things like the Empire State Building and any store that had an I Heart NY shirt in its window. In reality I was dodging one type of tourist trap for another. In reality, the stores I were going to were the stores that tailored to tourists like me. I don’t know that New York has a lot of stores that in some way aren’t made for the tourists that spend so much of their hard-earned money there, whether it’s the soccer mom and her kids who are coming to see the Statue of Liberty and will pay $12 for a key chain or the people like me who think they’re too hip for school and will spend $12 on a CBGB t-shirt from one of the street vendors in the East Village.
The last time I visited New York, just a week and a half ago, I went with Kim and Jack. I knew going into it that this was a going to be a different kind of trip. Jack was incredibly excited to see the city for the first time and I was excited to show it to him. I knew we wouldn’t be spending all night in after hour jazz clubs or finding little French restaurants or wine bars to eat in. I was sure we’d be spending most of our time in all of those touristy places I used to avoid. I couldn’t wait. I knew we didn’t have much time so getting to the Statue of Liberty for a $12 key chain was out of the question but I was sure we could squeeze in a lot during our 36 or so hours there.
As it turned out our hotel was on the border between Soho, Little China and Little Italy. Walk down one street and you’d find a bonanza of tiny stores, manned by Asians selling knock off hand bags, watches, key chains, t-shirts, souvenirs of every kind as far as the eye could see; walk in another direction and you’d find Italian restaurants all blasting Frank Sinatra, the type of places a real New Yorker would never be caught dead in but would be filled each night with out of towners who felt like they had found “their New York plac” and cheap stores with Soprano’s t-shirts and hats screaming “Forget about it!” They were the type of places I would have never been caught dead in before, with Jack though everything was different. I was delighted to walk into each and every knock off Asian store and look at the same Statue of Liberty faux gold-plated Statue of Liberty with a clock in it’s base (oh yes, Jack insisted we buy one of those). We ate pizza in an Italian restaurant and enjoyed the Rat Pack while we dined.
The second day there we spent most of it in Times Square. Jack was as amazed by the lights and colors as he was by the TV in the seat of the cabs we took. He was most excited by the New York sized Toys R Us, M&M and Hershey stores. Yes, we visited them all and a million little souvenir shops along the way as well. We didn’t make it to the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building but Jack got to see Rockefeller Center and the Museum of Modern Art (and how many 7 year olds from Pittsburgh can make that claim?) Now, MoMA isn’t on every tourist’s list but it was certainly the Rullo twist to the weekend. On Sunday just before we left we went to the site of the World Trade Center, it was as quiet and sad and awe-inspiring as you’d imagine.
So, I know what you’re thinking “Why the heck did Dave write this column this week? Just to brag he spent a weekend in NY.” The point is that some parts of getting old suck. It’s no fun gaining weight or having your knees hurt, it sucks knowing that you’re looking down the back-end of your life, even if it is just the start of the backend. Every now and then though a weekend like this happens where the difference between what you did when you were younger and what you’re do now as an adult, father and husband couldn’t be more transparent. If you’re lucky, like me you’ll be able to look back on the memories of what you did in your youth and remember the good times but you’ll be thrilled to know you have the new experiences to share with your son and wife, that moments like these really are the good old days and the most important thing is to hold onto the strands of the experiences as tightly as possible for as long as possible.